Tanzio came from the Piedmontese town of Varallo, however he is usually grouped with his Milanese baroque contemporaries, especially Il Cerano (1575–1632) and Morazzone (1573–?1626). Tanzio is ‘best known for his dramatic oil paintings executed in a unique style of Caravaggesque realism modified by the elegance of Lombard Late Mannerism’ (Frangi, op cit.). Tanzio is recorded as having left Varallo for Rome in the Holy Year of 1600 and is not recorded back in Lombardy until 1611. During his travels he would have seen the works of Caravaggio and his followers such as Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639). In 1616 these influences show themselves in his earliest large-scale commissions, notably St Carlo Borromeo administering the Sacrament to Plague Victims (Domodossola) and his first chapel, devoted to Christ before Pilate, for the sacromonte in Varallo in which he contributed the frescoes and his brother sculptures. These frescoes also show the influence of the more archaic style of Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475/80–1546), a high renaissance artist influenced by Leonardo. At around this time, he also painted the spectacular David with the Head of Goliath (Museo Civico, Varallo) which exemplifies Tanzio’s highly personal fusion of Caravaggesque intensity and Mannerist elegance.
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Books on Tanzio da Varallo
Virginia Brilliant, Faithful to Nature, Eleven Lombard Paintings 1530-1760, exh. cat., New York, 2019.
Andrea Beyer ed., Painters of Reality: The legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy, exh. cat., New York, 2004.
Marco Bono Castellotti ed., Tanzio da Varallo: realismo, fervore e contemplazione in un pitture del Seicento, Milan, 2000.
Francesco Frangi, ‘Tanzio da Varallo’, Grove Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner, vol. 30, pp. 302-305.
Francesco Porzio, ‘Tanzio da Varallo’, Pinacoteca di Brera, scuola lombarda, ligure e piemontese, 1535–1796, Milan, 1989.
Giovanni Testori, Tanzio da Varallo, exh. cat., Turin, 1959.